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Gabe Orta
Gabe Orta
Photo by Stefan Merriweather

The Bartenders to Look Out For at SOBEWFF 2019

Broken Shaker co-creator and Bar Lab cofounder Gabe Orta remembers when the most creative cocktail in South Beach was a frozen mix margarita with an upside-down Corona bottle as both garnish and floater.

"Just a few years back, there wasn't anywhere to get a good cocktail in Miami. It was a lot of nightclubs and high-volume places with a 'doorman' mentality. My dream was to open a place that was low-key where everyone was welcome no matter how they're dressed."

Orta, along with business partner Elad Zvi, went on to create one of the nation's most iconic concepts — the Broken Shaker — in 2012. The 30-day pop-up, designed to travel to cities across the nation, was so popular in Miami Beach it turned into a mainstay at the Freehand Hotel, was ranked 16th on the list "The World's 50 Best Bars," and has expanded to New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

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At the time, the pair's carefully crafted drinks were among the first to be stirred with custom-made ice and fresh herbs straight from the patio garden, launching a trend in the Miami cocktail scene. But Orta insists he wasn't doing anything different — he was simply doing what he loved.

Orta and Zvi created their own brand of cool again with the Anderson, a neighborhood bar they reimagined as an '80s-era dance-club-inspired hot spot that garnered praise as one of Esquire's 2018 picks for best new bar. Three venues in one, it begins with a piano bar that leads to an outdoor hipster hangout à la Broken Shaker and ends with a trip to the Caribbean at a street-style rum shack.

Just like crafting a new concept or constructing a balanced drink, there's specific criteria that make up a great mixologist, Orta says. A good bartender isn't just the person making an award-winning drink. It's about bringing style, personality, and life to the bar. Where before it was just one type of bartender, now you're seeing plenty of creativity from experts who bring their unique vibe and energy to your cocktail experience.

"The bartender is the curator of your evening," Orta says. "For me, they're like the DJ when you go to a party. It's the person in charge of the room, directing every part of your experience. It's not just about a perfectly balanced cocktail. It's also the perfect balance of fun, conversation, and mood."

During the 18th-annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival, you can find many of South Florida's top bartenders shaking things up at a number of events geared toward the art of the cocktail. Here are the ones to look out for.

Midnight Eats: An Española Way Block Party, hosted by Bar Lab, Debi Mazar, and Gabriele Corcos and featuring music by Rev Run. Look for Orta at Midnight Eats, a late-night event that will transport you to a midnight market in some far-off country. That translates to not only his specialty — lots of fresh ingredients — but also something he's really into right now: fermented juices. The two-block oasis will be tucked away in South Beach's Art Deco District, while '90s icon Rev Run of Run-D.M.C. will bring the beats while you sip drinks conceived by Orta himself. Wash down all of those salty, sweet, savory treats while bathed in the twinkling lights and historic charm of this secluded area that channels the romantic Mediterranean villages of Spain and France. Midnight to 2 a.m. Saturday, February 23, at the entrance at Washington Avenue and Española Way, Miami Beach. Tickets cost $95 via sobewff.org/midnight.

Bacardi Presents the Art of Tiki Cocktail Showdown, hosted by Ted Allen. Get your tiki on at the Surfcomber, where Ted Allen, author and host of the Food Network series Chopped, will lead an evening of Polynesian pop and tiki-inspired cocktails. The festival has rounded up some of the best bartenders from South Florida and beyond — including David Cedeno of MiniBar, TJ Palmieri of Madrina's, Jesus Perez of Broken Shaker Miami, Emiliano Gonzalez of Casa Florida, Daniele Dalla Pola of Esotico Miami, Andres Rairan of Social Club, and Anthony Valencia of Driftway Bar — to compete for the title "King of Tiki." Allen will join an esteemed panel of judges to evaluate the contestants' rum-centric libations while you sip the entries and nibble on a selection of small bites from some of the area's most buzzed-about spots. 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, February 22, at the Kimpton Surfcomber, 1717 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets are sold out.

Cocktail Creating Master Class. Let Sipsmith brand ambassador JP Calabria show you how to make a drink the old-fashioned way: with a few bar skills. Learn to mix cocktails like a master as you swirl, clink, and create the afternoon away in a hip setting while sipping drinks you made with Sipsmith gin. 12:30 to 2 p.m. Saturday, February 23, at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila,1220 16th St., Miami Beach. Tickets are sold out.

Cocktail Master Class. Bodega, a South Beach taqueria that houses a hidden late-night bar, will welcome attendees through a secret passageway to reveal a mixology class worth seeking out. You'll learn to mix cocktails with Gabe Urrutia, author of Miami Cocktails: An Elegant Collection of Over 100 Recipes Inspired by the Magic City, along with some of Miami's best bartenders. The class will teach you everything you need to know to be the host with the most as you learn simple tricks and tips to wow your guests via specialty cocktails. Afterward, spend the rest of your day imbibing your own custom libations. 2:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday, February 23, at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila, 1220 16th St., Miami Beach. Tickets are sold out.

Behind the Shaker: Miami's Top Bartenders Riff on Bar Life, Industry Changes, and What to Drink in 2019. Panelists and industry professionals Julio Cabrera (Cafe La Trova), Gui Jaroschy (Generator Hostels), and Sarah Lawrence (Sweet Liberty), along with Orta, will give you an inside look at the movers and shakers of Miami's bar scene. Behind the Shaker will unite the best minds in the industry — many who've risen to national prominence by garnering James Beard nominations and Tales of the Cocktail wins — to talk bar life, high-volume versus craft, and trends for 2019. Noon to 12:30 p.m. Friday, February 22, at the Grand Tasting Village, 13th Street and Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. Admission is free with online RSVP (limited seating) via sobewff.org.

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